A study published on October 21 in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pedriatics, has established a relationship between spanking children at a young age and their later linguistic development. The long-lasting impact on children’s cognitive abilities is reflected in the use of aggressive behaviour and language-related problems even in the years close to adolescence. The study was based on a corpus of 1,900 families from 20 different cities in the United States.
The specialists’ procedure involved asking parents how often they spanked their children when they were three years old, and how many times they did so when the children were five years old. Afterwards, those same children’s behaviour and language were evaluated at the ages of three and nine.
The results have shown that a higher percentage of parents spank their children at the age of three: 57 per cent of mothers against 40 per cent of father do so. At the age of five, 52 per cent of mothers spank their children against 33 per cent of fathers. The relationship between spanking and language and vocabulary was seen in children who were spanked as often as twice a week by their fathers at the age of five. Children have shown poorer performance in vocabulary and language-comprehension exams later in life.
Other related results have shown that, for those mothers spanking their children when they were five years old, there was a higher tendency for the latter to show aggressive behaviour by the time they turned nine. Age five seems to be a particularly vulnerable age, as any degree of spanking seems to have an impact in later life behaviour. On the contrary, children who were three year olds only showed a correlation between spanking and behaviour if they were spanked as frequently as twice or more times a week.
Consequences of Spanking
Spanking has been proven to be related to children’s learning ability, cognitive development and verbal capacity. The relationship between these has not been proven to be a cause-effect one, but there is certainly a correlation. Researchers have not been able to pin down the reason for the relation between spanking and language, but they hypothesize it is related to the cognitive development problems of physically abused children.
Researchers involved in the study highlight the importance of informing families of the possible negative consequences that spanking could have in the development and future of their children, as well as informing them of more effective disciplinary measures to replace the spanking technique. There are already 32 countries where physical punishment of children is prohibited by law, even though the United States is not one of them.